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Is Your RV 30 Amp or 50 Amp? How to Easily Tell and What It Means

When camping, it’s essential to know how much electricity your RV needs. If you have a 50 amp RV, can you run both air conditioning units on a 30 amp outlet? If you have a 30 amp RV, can you use the vacuum cleaner, microwave, hair dryer, and air conditioner simultaneously without tripping a breaker? Your weekend camping trip could end with costly repairs if you don’t understand your RV’s amps. Let’s take a closer look!

Not All RV Electric Hookups Are Equal

When you connect your RV to shore power, you plug it into an outlet that provides electricity to the camper. The most common RV electrical hookups in the US are 30 amp and 50 amp. If you pull into a campsite in a 45 foot motorhome, you’ll want a 50 amp hookup. A smaller travel trailer or truck camper will likely use a 30 amp hookup.

Larger RVs generally need lots more power and a larger hookup. You can run more appliances on a 50 amp outlet than on a 30 amp outlet because the wiring is different. A 50 amp RV plug has two 50 amp rated 120-volt wires coming into the unit, whereas a 30 amp RV plug has only one 30 amp 120-volt wire. We will talk about what that means a little bit later.

30amp vs 50amp Power Issues

How Do I Tell If I Have a 30 Amp RV or a 50 Amp RV?

The RV plug will indicate whether you have a 30 amp RV or a 50 amp RV. A 30 amp plug will have three prongs: one for the 120-volt wire, one for the neutral wire, and one for the ground wire. A 50 amp plug will have four prongs: two for the 120-volt cables, one for the neutral wire, and one for the ground wire. The pedestal where you plug in the power cord may have two outlets; one for 30 amp service and 50 amp service. Other pedestals only have one outlet.

RV outlet types
Look at your RV plug to discover if you have a 30 amp RV or a 50 amp RV. The one labeled 240 volts is a 50 amp plug, the one labeled 120V is a 30 amp plug.

What Are Amps and Why Does Amperage Matter When RVing?

The basic rule of RVing is the higher the amperage, the more things you can operate simultaneously. A 30 amp RV outlet will provide 3,600 watts of electricity. On the other hand, a 50 amp RV outlet will provide 12,000 watts of electricity. A 50 amp cord also exponentially increases the power due to the two 120-volt wires.

Amperage matters when RVing. You don’t want to run more amps in your rig than you have coming in from the power source. If you do, you’ll trip the breaker. Breakers are fail-safe methods of protection to keep the wires in your RV from getting too hot and catching on fire. Once a breaker trips, it will trip more quickly each time. If you do this too often, you’ll damage the wires and might cause a fire. The breaker could also quit working, which is a severe fire hazard.

Burned RV frame after catching on fire.
It’s important to know your RVs amperage to avoid an RV fire!

What Are the Differences Between a 30 Amp RV and a 50 Amp RV?

The main difference between a 30 amp RV and a 50 amp RV is the plug and wiring. A 50 amp RV will have more outlets and wiring to send power to each outlet. Because of this, the appliances are different. For example, a 30 amp RV don’t usually operate a residential fridge because this type of refrigerator requires more electricity.

Lengthier RVs tend to have 50 amp wiring because they come with two or three air conditioning units. A 30 amp RV usually can’t operate more than one air conditioning unit at once because of the power required. If you plug a 50 amp RV into a 30 amp outlet with a dogbone adapter, you can usually only run one air conditioning unit; even if the RV has more than one you will just trip the breaker. There isn’t enough power coming in from the pedestal.

Pro Tip: Learn the ins and outs about what air conditioner unit will work best for your 30 and 50 amp RVs with our Complete Guide to RV Air Conditioners.

Why Can I Use More Electricity in a 50 Amp RV?

A 30 amp outlet supplies 3,600 watts. On average, an air conditioning unit requires 1,000-3,500 starting watts and needs 1200-1,700 running watts. A microwave will require anywhere from 600-1,500 watts. A laptop will use around 220 watts. Once you add all these watts, a 30 amp RV will have more limitations in what you can use simultaneously.

A 50 amp outlet supplies 12,000 watts with its two 120-volt wires. This is why 50 amp RVs can operate multiple air conditioning units. Someone can watch television while another person uses the microwave, while a third makes coffee. All the while, two air conditioning units can keep the RV a cool 68 degrees.

Close up of RV air conditioner and electrical wiring
If you want to run your air conditioning, microwave, or fridge, you need to know the amperage of your RV.

What Happens If I Exceed the Amperage Of My RV?

Sometimes, mistakes can happen. Your teenage daughter is blow drying her hair, and your teenage son decides to heat some macaroni and cheese in the microwave while the air conditioning unit is running. All of a sudden, everything cuts off. A breaker trips because the circuit is overloaded. Don’t fret if this happens one or two times. However, you don’t want to consistently overload the circuit as this will lead to severe damage. Always try to keep your eye on how much power you’re using.

Can a 30 Amp RV Operate on a 50 Amp Outlet?

You can, but it’s also risky. First, you need a dogbone adapter that attaches your 30 amp power cord to the 50 amp pedestal outlet. However, using one of these adapters doesn’t provide the protection you might expect. The pedestal will still provide up to 50 amps of power. This can be dangerous if you don’t watch your power. You could fry the wiring by overloading it, which could potentially cause a fire. So you can get an adapter to plug into a power source, but it’s essential to keep your amperage below 30 to protect your RV’s wiring system.

Pro Tip: Learn more about the impacts of Hooking a 30 Amp RV to 50 Amp Power and how to do it SAFELY.

Man connecting RV to electrical hookup
It is not wise for a 30 amp RV to use a 50 amp outlet, but a 50 amp RV can use a 30 amp outlet.

Can a 50 Amp RV Operate on a 30 Amp Outlet?

On the flip side, a 50 amp RV can operate on a 30 amp outlet with a dogbone adapter. The difference is if the RV is trying to use too much electricity by exceeding 30 amps, a breaker will trip. There is more protection for a 50 amp RV to operate on a 30 amp outlet than for a 30 amp RV to work on a 50 amp outlet. Usually, if you have a 50 amp RV and plug into a 30 amp outlet, you can’t run two air conditioning units simultaneously to ensure you have amps to run the fridge, microwave, or laptop without tripping a breaker.

Camco Camper / RV Dogbone Electrical Adapter -...
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Can I Upgrade My 30 Amp RV to a 50 Amp RV?

It’s possible to upgrade from a 30 amp RV to a 50 amp RV, but you should hire a professional electrician unless you have extensive experience. It requires a complete overhaul of the electrical system in your RV, which will also be expensive. You’ll need to replace your plug and redo the wiring to accommodate the added amperage. A professional electrician will rewire the RV safely and up to code.

What Goes Into an Off-Grid Power System? Overland RV Solar Power System With 12V Air Conditioning

Know What You Can and Can’t Run With Your RV Amperage

Don’t let tripping breakers ruin your weekend trip. Know what you can and can’t run simultaneously. Make sure no one is using the Nutri Ninja in the same outlet while operating the Instant Pot, and the air conditioner is running full blast. It will take some time to learn what can run in a 30 amp RV, but it’s worth it to protect the RV wiring.

If you know you’ll need a residential fridge, two air conditioning units, and a washer and dryer to make camping comfortable and enjoyable for your family of six, don’t look at 30 amp RVs. Stick to 50 amp RVs that will provide the power you need.

Do you know the amperage of your RV? Have you ever tripped a breaker? Tell us in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Saturday 27th of August 2022

Thanks. One comment: if it’s 100 degrees outside, most RVs can only cool down about 20 degrees, so 68 is a bit of a fantasy.